CHICAGO — This was expected all along.
The Miami Heat had finished their recent pushover portion of the schedule. If they were going to continue challenging history, they would have to get past the meat part of the obstacle.
And this time, an early hole was just too much to overcome.
The Heat ran out of comebacks in their attempt to break one of the league’s oldest records. They fell just short, losing, 101-97, to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night. It ended the Heat’s 27-game winning streak, leaving them six shy of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers mark of 33.
It was the Heat’s first loss since Feb. 1, and their second to the Bulls this season. It came against a Chicago team that hardly resembled the one the Heat faced in the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago or captured the No. 1 seed last season.
It is a makeshift lineup, without three core players, that will be remembered for ending the second-longest win streak in league history. Luol Deng led four Bulls players in double-figures with 28 points. LeBron James scored a game-high 32 points for the Heat.
“It doesn’t matter who’s playing on either side,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The last two years when these two teams come together, it’s going to be very competitive.”
The Heat had all the reason to enter this one with overconfidence. They welcomed the return of guard Dwyane Wade, who missed the two previous games with soreness in his right knee. They were also in the familiar position of facing an opponent without a few of their key players.
Inactive for the Bulls were center Joakim Noah and guards Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli, all significant contributors sidelined with injuries. This was on top of guard Derrick Rose, rumored throughout the past couple days to return, still out with a knee injury.
As they have in situations as such all season — facing an undermanned team — the Heat struggled at the start. It was no different than when they played the Cleveland Cavaliers without Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters or the Orlando Magic minus Nikola Vucevic and Arron Affalo.
The Heat once again fell behind by double-digits, trailing by as many as 13 in the first half. They were down 55-46 at half before the “on” switch was finally pressed.
That came in the form of starting the third quarter with James scoring four straight points on breakaway dunks. It was just the push the Heat needed to begin yet another comeback. This marked the eighth time during the streak they were forced to rally after trailing by at least 10 points.
Dangling their chance at history had become commonplace, especially during the last few weeks. Each time, the Heat had it kept going, usually with a spurt of nearly flawless basketball in a short stretch.
It appeared they were headed that direction again.
Down 57-50, they went on a 9-1 run to grab their first lead that came courtesy of a Shane Battier 3-pointer.
Even when the Bulls threatened to get the United Center crowd of 23,014 back into it, the Heat had an answer on every occasion. Chicago regained a bit of control in impressive fashion when guard Jimmy Butler was on the receiving end of an alley-oop pass from Luol Deng that put it ahead 64-61 with 2:25 left.
Butler caught the pass while jumping over Heat center Chris Bosh. The play added to the recent history of highlight-worthy dunks in the series, dating to James soaring above John Lucas III last year and Taj Gibson posterizing Wade in the 2011 playoffs.
It provided perfect opportunity to sway momentum. Instead, the Heat doused the mood with another wide open Battier 3-pointer.
“We have some of the best 3-point shooters in this league,” Spoelstra said. “When the ball is moving freely, those guys knock down open shots … We shouldn’t have to take contested shots if we have poise.”
The Bulls kept the pressure on by building a seven-point lead on Kirk Hinrich’s short jumper that made it 80-73 with 6:37 left.
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